Higher education in Ireland was dealt a bitter blow as its leading universities plummeted down the latest world rankings.
The table, released last week by QS, showed Trinity College Dublin as Ireland’s highest placed university, and the only one inside the top 100. Its position of 98th was 20 places lower than last year, while University College Dublin, the second highest ranking Irish university, fell 22 places to 176th and University College Cork suffered a 50 place drop to 283rd.
There was some positive news for the National University of Ireland in Galway, however, as it saw its stock rise from 271st to 249th. The results brought a clear response from the Irish Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, who affirmed that “doing nothing is not an option” when it comes to addressing higher education in the country.
Various education officials and student representatives have called for an increase in funding, the lack of which, they believe, has contributed to the demise. A spokeswoman for Mr Bruton explained that there is no easy option when it comes to resolving the matter, and that the suggestions hitherto have all contained significant downsides.
“There is a broad consensus on the need for investment but no consensus on where the money should come from,” she said. “Those who are ruling out particular options need to spell out where they will get the money from.”
One option is the plan put forward by the chairman of the Expert Group of Third Level Funding, Peter Cassells. Mr Cassells estimates that an investment needs to be increased by €600 million over the next five years. In a report released by his group in July this year, he suggested that this additional funding could come from general taxation, from students in the form of fees or a student loan system, or from contributions by employers through the national training levy.
This report has been published by the government and referred to an Oireachtas committee, the spokeswoman for Mr Bruton confirmed. The Union of Students in Ireland said that annual state funding from the higher education sector has been cut by a third, from €1.4 billion to €923 million. It has echoed Mr Cassells demand for greater investment in the area, as well as calling for a reduction to student fees.
“It’s time for the government to act now by reducing the student contribution fees by a minimum of €500, investing €140 million in higher education, and reinstating postgraduate grants,” said Annie Hoey, the president of the union.
The QS World University Rankings were once again topped by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which received a perfect 100.0 score. Stanford University and Harvard University came second and third, respectively, as the US dominated the top part of the table. The highest ranking British university was Cambridge, which was placed fourth, while Oxford came sixth.